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15 Years, 15 Greatest Players

Time to add players and coaches to the NBA's 15 year-old lists of greatest players and coaches.

by James Leroy Wilson
February 28, 2012

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15 Years, 15 Greatest Players

In 1996, the NBA released a list of 50 of the greatest players of the NBA's first 50 years. It also released a list of the 10 greatest coaches in NBA history.

I thought this was a splendid idea. The NBA doesn't currently have its own "Hall of Fame" but these lists mean essentially the same thing. They rewarded current players and coaches alongside the retired. If you were named one of the 50 greatest players of the NBA's first 50 years, nothing can really take that honor away from you.

But I believe the NBA should have ADDED five more players to the list after 55 years, plus one more coach. And they should have added another five players after 60 years, and another coach.

They didn't.

Well, it's now been fifteen years since the 50 players/10 coaches list came out. I think it's time to add 15 more players and three more coaches.

I'm not taking anyone off of the original 50 years/50 players list, nor am I taking anyone off the 50 years/10 coaches list. Those lists are sacrosanct. I am ADDING 15 players and 3 more coaches, to maintain the 1 year: 1 greatest player ratio and 5 year: 1 greatest coach ratio.


These ten names came to my off the top of my head as obvious choices. I'm listing them by last name alphabetically:

Kobe Bryant
Tim Duncan
Kevin Garnett
Dwight Howard
Allen Iverson
LeBron James
Jason Kidd
Steve Nash
Dirk Nowitzki
Dwyane Wade

I asked some friends about these choices. One took issue with Iverson, and I see that perspective. He was the most doubtful name I came up with. However, he did win a league MVP award and led the 76ers to the Finals. And, he was selected on the NBA's First, Second, or Third team six times. Despite what one may think of him as a person, or public impressions of what he's like as a teammate, he was nevertheless an elite player for a long time.

I also suggested other names, and my friends offered a few additions. I requested that players should have been around for five years before they should be considered. Even so, a friend suggested Derrick Rose, and another said that if Rose should be considered, then Kevin Durant should be, too. My position is, a player with less than 5 years experience should have a bundle of MVP awards, All-NBA selections, and/or Finals appearances. Neither Rose or Durant come up to the standard, which almost no player can do within just five years. Five years from now, I'm confident they'll both be on the Top 70 list, but not now on the Top 65.

Here are the remaining names that I thought of to round out the 65, plus suggestions by friends. The number beside the name is total the number of selections the player has had to the All-NBA First, Second, or Third Team. I will list them in order of the number of All-NBA selections they received:

Gary Payton: 8
Tracy Mcgrady: 6
Yao Ming: 5
Grant Hill: 4
carmelo Anthony:4
Reggie Miller: 3
Paul Pierce: 3
Chauncey Billups: 3
Chris Paul: 3
Pau Gasol: 3
Ray Allen: 2
Dennis Rodman:2
Vince Carter: 2
Alonzo Mourning: 2

How much should All-NBA selections carry weight? I don't know. Mitch Richmond, who played a majority of his career previous to the 1996-97 season, was a 5-time All-NBA First, Second, or Third Teamer. He didn't cross anyone's mind.

Then again, perhaps he DOES belong. His career in Sacramento and Golden State may be obscured by a media bias that only pays attention to the Lakers on the West Coast. There could be others, especially those who primarily played in the first 50 years but didn't receive the recognition then.

The original selectors of the Top 50 might have had similar dilemmas. You don't want to overlook anybody, but at the same time, if one IS overlooked, he's probably among the close calls.

If I rounded out the list, I'd put in these players. But they are not ironclad as are the ten mentioned previously. There could be players from the past who didn't quite make it into the original Top 50 list. My selections here are subjective, and a good case may be made for other players. Nevertheless, if I'm to round out the "best 65 players, 65 years" list, I would add:

Gary Payton: 8 All-NBA selections.
Chris Paul: The attempt to trade for him caused perhaps the greatest public relations disaster of Commissioner Stern's career.
Carmelo Anthony: Making more baskets than the other team is what basketball is all about, and Anthony is among the best at making baskets.
Pau Gasol: Considered one of the ten best players of the NBA today, and tandemned with Kobe Bryant to win back-to-back NBA championships
Paul Pierce: Longtime Boston sportswriter Bob Ryan considers him one of the 5 greatest Celtics ever. That's good enough for me.

Here, then, are the 15 players I would add to the 50 greatest list:

Carmelo Anthony
Kobe Bryant
Tim Duncan
Kevin Garnett
Pau Gasol
Dwight Howard
Allen Iverson
LeBron James
Jason Kidd
Steve Nash
Dirk Nowitzki
Chris Paul
Gary Payton
Paul Pierce
Dwyane Wade


Here are the 3 greatest coaches that I think should be added to the original 10 greatest list:

Gregg Popovich: Four NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs since the original list was compiled.
Jerry Sloan: Kept reaching the playoffs year after year with the Utah Jazz; won two Western Conference titles; 5th all-time in wins.
Larry Brown: He won most places he coached, went to the NBA Finals twice and one once, and is sixth all-time in wins.

If I were to add one more in five years, my guess is that it would be Doc Rivers. But time will tell.

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